About a bitter aging homeless comic who's about to snap
|The exact moment that his 1994 Toyota Corolla clocked its two hundred-thousandth mile, comedian Daryl Carroll made it a celebration. He stopped and took pictures. Of the car. Of the cornfields that surrounded him. Of Interstate 80 as it disappeared into the distance. Then he lifted the hood and put out his thumb and waved his arms until someone stopped so he could get his picture taken. In front of the car. Behind the wheel of the car. On top of the car. Then he took pictures of the someone who stopped. Pictures for his scrap book. Pictures he could post on his Website. Pictures that would document the story. The story he would tell time and again of how he captured on film, while stopped on an Interstate highway in rural Iowa, the exact location that marked the two-hundred-thousandth mile logged onto his 1994 Toyota Corolla. A road comic’s car – not yet four years old. A road comic’s car driven two-hundred-thousand miles in pursuit of a dream. And good stories.
But that was ten-years-and-two-cars-ago and there was no celebration as his 1999 Nissan logged its three-hundred-thousandth mile. Nor was there any notice paid. Nor any good story. Though the section of road was reminiscent as far as location goes, the hope and enthusiasm for the pursuit of a dream, was hundreds of thousands of miles behind.
As the tachometer registered the miles the lone occupant drove on in silence with only the noise of the road to provide a soundtrack to his thoughts. Then Daryl broke the silence, “I’m living my dream all right, while at the same time shattering it to bloody pieces.” He was speaking to himself. He would listen later and transpose his spoken thoughts to his computer as he replayed them. Daryl kept a voice recorder at the ready when he drove. In the Corolla of yesteryear, it was to capture the wording of a new comedy bit. In the Nissan of this afternoon, it was capturing the wording of a suicide note.
Daryl returned the recorder to the ashtray; a moment later he picked it up again. “At least I won’t be sitting around when I’m old lamenting the fact that I had a dream and didn’t pursue it. I’ll never think ‘what if.’ I’ll know as I lie on my death-bed – with a needle-full of heroin in my vein and a gun barrel to my mouth – that not only did I have the guts to pursue my dream, I had the guts to display what a failure I am.” He set down the recorder, took a deep breath, then swore “mother fuck I should kill myself” and slammed his fist into the steering column. Mad at the wording. Mad at some newly occurred thought. Just mad.
The suicide note Daryl had been working on was not his own. Not really anyway. It was meant to be the stuff of fiction; the suicide note of a character in a play (a one man show) he was writing about a bitter aging homeless comic who snaps. A bitter aging homeless comic he was not-so-loosely basing on himself. A bitter aging homeless comic he planned to play on stage himself.
Daryl pick up his recorder: “I kill myself in the end, not because the crowds hate me (though they do) or because I’m a commercial failure (though I am) but because I’ve come to hate me. My comedy that is. My own self agrees I’m not funny. I create nothing new but crap. I come down with a fatal case of writers block and blam. I blow my fucking head off.”
Daryl hit the stop button. Then hit record again, “How to make blowing brains out funny? Maybe instead of biting a bullet I swallow a bottle of sleeping pills. While I’m smoking crack.”
The one-man-show was Daryl’s latest big idea; a big idea for which he had already well-planned out. First he planned to perform small bits of it at amateur nights. Then he planned to pitch his one-man-show to comedy clubs. Eventually his plan was to have it produced Off Broadway to critical acclaim. Then he planned to sell it to HBO. That he believed would lead to his own TV show. Becoming rich and famous was always the plan. With fame and fortune came power. Power he now craved more than anything. Power to orchestrate paybacks. Paybacks to right wrongs. Wrongs done to him by bookers, agents, and back-stabbing comics. Daryl still dreamed, but these days, mostly of revenge. And he planned and planned and planned on seeking revenge.
But first he had to write it. Daryl picked up his recorder again, “Before checking out, I seek revenge. Payback’s a bitch. Then I die. Revenge story. Dicky Baker needs a video tape. A squeaky clean tape for some club owner that has a family night. I send a video to Dicky Baker knowing full well he never looks at a tape. But this club owner, an all important good Christian I’ll call Mister Big-Shot-Fuck-Head, needs one. In my show I call him Big-Shot-Fuck-Head because he didn’t like my head-shot so he needs to see a tape which makes him a fuck-head. So Dicky drops my video into an envelope, sight unseen, sends it out. But instead of me doing standup, it’s perv porn of a guy fucking a goat. Here’s the kicker – I dub in a different soundtrack. A conversation I’ve secretly record where Dicky-sleaze-ball talks shit about Big-Shot-Fuck-Head behind his back. Not a stretch by any means. A trait he’s famous for. And I say, ‘That’s Dicky who’s fucking the goat and the goats is you, Mister Big-Shot-Fuck-Head.’ Except I use his real name.” Of course Daryl didn’t really think that Dicky Baker, biggest comedy-night-in-shit-holes booker in the country, fucked club owners. He kissed their ass. He fucked comedians, Daryl thought, metaphorically in the ass.
For Daryl felt wronged. Like all comics feel wronged. Save for the very few who’ve achieved the level of success and all the adulation they believe they deserve. Probably all comics feel wronged. Daryl more than most; and that was a lot. Daryl had become especially resentful. And he carried a grudge. A grudge that had festered into an obsession for revenge. Revenge is what got him out of bed in the morning. Revenge is what kept him awake behind the wheel of his car. And it was revenge that kept him in this ass-kissing business.
Daryl was talented; but different. He was hard working; but not good at selling himself. His comedy was smart, innovative and original. But he had poor social skills and was terrible on the phone. Audiences didn’t always get him and they didn’t like the way he looked. Agents rarely took his calls and when they did, they liked to fuck with his head. He’d long ago concluded that all agents were greedy, power tripping, later-to-life bullies, who took advantage of guys like Daryl for their greedy pursuit of profit. The road had taught him that success had nothing to do with artistic integrity or attention to craft; and that agents lied, cheated and became rich exploiting people’s dreams. And he cynically came to believe that these same agents took great pleasure in being able to do so. Much as the owner of strip-club enjoys getting the blow-job from the fifteen-year-old runaway auditioning for a job she’ll never get; he was convinced that these slime-ball agents enjoyed sticking it to him. Powerless yet to settle any scores; he was learning patience. But he was plotting revenge.
Revenge is a strong motivator. And you need a strong motivator to keep on the career path that Daryl had chosen. A path where the writing on the walls suggested that you’d always be broke and never achieve success. And you need a strong motivator to swallow enough of your pride to take the money-losing gigs, Daryl did. Gigs in the out of the way places you drove hundreds of miles to, to perform for audiences that were too drunk or too stupid to get your jokes, like the one he was on his way to tonight to do. And you need strong motivation to suffer the indignity to open for talent-less hacks you held in such deep disdain, like the ones Daryl did. Comics whose only talent was recycling hack premises and looking funny in fake teeth, like the hack that he was opening tonight for. And you needed strong motivation to put three hundred thousand miles on 1999 Nissan for the privilege of being homeless and kissing ass.
“If only I wasn’t funny. Then I could quit this bull-fucking-shit.” Daryl spoke out loud as he thought of the suicide scene he’d been creating. But he did not record that statement. Nor did he mean to. He just said it out loud as if he needed some self-reassurance. Then he put on his turn signal, checked his blind spot and exited the freeway. It was time to check fluids. The Nissan consumed power steering fluid faster than it did gas. It had also starting burning oil and he would check that too. Daryl took good care of his cars. And he always checked his blind spot.
As he veered onto the exit ramp his cell phone chimed. Daryl’s mood shifted. Suddenly it was hope that was on the horizon; three new voice mails. Perhaps it was the message he’d been waiting for. Maybe Dicky heard about last night, about how the headliner didn’t show up, and how he, the feature act, did ninety killer minutes and saved the day? Maybe Dicky Baker was ready to headline him? Or maybe it was that Vegas club he’d just sent his video to? The thought of such prospects so excited him he didn’t wait to stop to listen. Daryl Carroll was as quick to hope as he was to despair. His phone was to his ear before his turn signal was off. Maybe it was his old friend, Jimmy Kimmel? It was not.
“Hey Daryl Carroll. It’s JT Jacktown. Still bumming ‘bout last night. Hear you did good. My car’s tits up and get this: I’m out of shirts. Had some shipped but I need a ride to FedEx. There’s a free shirt in it for you bro. It’s right near where you’ll be staying. Call me when you get this.”
Daryl thought, where I’ll be staying? He did not like the sound of that. Out loud he said, “You’d think I’d be staying at the Holiday Inn because that’s where the fucking show is!” And he called JT Jacktown.
“What’s this shit about where I’ll be staying?”
“Daryl Carroll what’s up?”
“Driving and covering your ass. What’s this shit about where I’m staying?”
“I’ll fill you in when you get here. Where you at?”
“I’m still an hour away. I had a show last night. Kearney is three hundred miles away. Remember?”
“You think that’s bad. I’ve been stuck in Topeka for two days without a car.”
“What’s this shit about ‘where I’ll be staying’.”
“Just come to the Holiday Inn. I’ll fill you in on the way to FedEx. We’ll get food. On me. You gotta see my new shirts.”
“Yeah well I’ll see ‘em tonight and I’ve eaten already. What I need’s a nap.” Daryl had not eaten already. Had no desire to see JT’s new shirts and he wasn’t about to agree to give this hack a ride to pick them up. Even for a free lunch. And he really wanted that nap.
JT Jacktown was the type of road comic who Daryl thought was worse than a hack. He was a T-shirt salesman hack. JT, and comics like him, typically made more money selling T-shirts after their show than their openers were paid for doing their act. Stupid T-shirts people would probably never wear. JT’s said “The curtains should match the carpeting. Ladies shave your head.”
“I hear you bro. Just swing me through the drive-through.”
“Sorry man but I really need a nap…”
“I’m getting a call. LA area code. Call me when you get in.”
“I need to know where I’m staying,” Daryl said to himself because there was no one on the line.
So Daryl topped off his fluids, went to the bathroom, checked the map and called JT back. JT did not pick up. Daryl did not leave a message. Instead he called Dicky Baker, biggest comedy-night-in-shit-holes booker in the country. Usually when Daryl called Dicky he would get voicemail. Usually when Daryl called he was asking for work. Dicky only reluctantly ever gave Daryl work and he checked his caller ID. Dicky took the call today. He needed Daryl’s cooperation and he needed to keep him from getting a big head.
“Hey Daryl Carroll. How’s it going out there?”
“Hi Rich.” Everybody called Rich Baker, Dicky, but not to his face. “I guess you heard JT was a no-show. I did my time and covered his. The entire ninety minutes. And I killed.”
“Roger said you did OK. Still had to give refunds, though, you know.” Dicky knew that Roger, the bar owner, didn’t give any refunds. He gave out half-off coupons for another show; the same half-off coupons you can clip out of the Penny Saver. And he knew that Daryl had a killer ninety minute set. He did save the show and Dicky’s ass. Dicky could’ve lost the account. He was still worried he’d lose his commission. “He said he had complaints. Those older ladies sometimes don’t quite know how to take you.”
“I had a kick ass show. There were no old ladies.” And there weren’t. It was college ID night. Dicky didn’t know that.
“Well thanks for covering the time. Did you get JT to FedEx?”
“He left a message, said he needed a ride. What’s this shit about ‘where I’m staying?’ ”
“Happens from time to time. Holiday Inn is full. They have another property across town.”
“Nicer I’m guessing?”
“I hear it’s not bad.” Dicky knew it was a flea bag. “They have the information at the front desk at the Holiday Inn. Said you can come back there in the morning for free continental breakfast. You’ll be needing to pick up JT anyway and get him to the next two gigs. He’s having car problems.”
JT’s car was fine. He lied about it being broke down. He drove a vintage classic Cadillac but didn’t like putting miles on it. It was at home in the garage. He was supposed to get a ride to last night’s show from his girlfriend but only made it halfway. They were stopped at a rest area and while JT was in the men’s room his girlfriend snuck a look at his cell phone. There were several steamy text messages JT forgot to delete. From another woman. His girlfriend left him at the rest area. Luckily for JT she threw his phone at him before driving off. The woman that sent him the steamy text messages picked him up and gave him the ride to Topeka. JT always lied about needing things like a ride. Chicks and audiences dug him. And he was good on the phone.
“I really don’t have the room. Everything I own’s in my car.”
“That’s why I consider it this a huge favor. Thanks for helping me out on this one.” For some reason Dicky loved JT and covered for him. Maybe it was because the two were kindred souls – albeit greedy immoral slime-balls. Maybe it was because Dicky thought that JT made him money even though he needed baby-sitting and sometimes missed gigs. “Chauffeur JT around this week. Keep him happy. I’ll set you up with dates next week.”
Daryl wondered why not right now? But said, “When next week?”
“Monday morning. Call me. Have your calendar open.”
“We talk about headline dates right? I cannot afford to keep featuring. I got almost 300,000 miles on my car.”
Dicky had Daryl right where he wanted him. “You know I’ve been planning on moving you up. You’re funny and I know I you’re the type of guy I can trust to send in commissions on time. Monday after I get home from the bank, I’ll hook you up.”
Daryl did not want to give JT a ride to pick up his shirts. But he would. Daryl did not want to cart JT’s ass around all weekend either. But he would. Daryl did not want to do any favors for JT or Dicky. He wanted to ask for the extra money he was owed for last night’s show; Dicky’s commission that Roger, the bar owner, told Daryl was his to keep. He said nothing. It was headline dates he wanted most. Now was not the time to rock the boat. He would call Monday morning.
Daryl was pumped. Headline dates finally. He thought maybe Dicky wasn’t so bad after all? As a good faith measure he’d put the commission check in a mail with a note about what Roger said; about how it was his to keep. Dicky could then decide not to cash it. What comic was that honest and on the ball? Features didn’t send in the commissions. Headliners did. He was a headliner now right? Daryl had the check in the mail box before he got back on the Interstate. As he eased his car back onto the freeway he glanced down at the odometer. “I’ll be damned,” he thought out loud. He didn’t even notice the three-hundred-thousand mile rollover. That thought made him depressed about a number of things and he drove on in silence.
Then he had a hopeful thought. He still had two voice mails to check. Maybe he was on a roll? But as quick as the phone was to his ear his mood had shifted back to despair. One message was from the annoying and impatient JT asking again for his stupid ride. The other one was from Dicky Baker expecting his commission. That made Daryl want to throw up. Not just because he’d be out the one hundred fifty bucks he just mailed. He just realized that Dicky would’ve assumed that Daryl had already heard his message. The only reason Dicky was acting nice over the phone was so that he wouldn’t be asked to give up his commission.
All weekend Daryl tried to remain hopeful. All weekend long he played nice to JT even though he was a huge pain in the ass. Monday morning he called like he was supposed to. He had his calendar open. All he got was Dicky’s voice mail.